President Donald Trump’s proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a provocative and dangerous policy that will have repercussions, not only in the Middle East, but around the world. This is not, however, only about foreign policy and easing tensions in the Middle East. Trump’s action will likely increase the day-to-day hardships of Palestinians in occupied territories, who already live under state sponsored oppression, into something far worse.
To fully understand the impact of Trump’s announcement an appreciation of the history of the international community’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinians must be understood. In 1967, Israel seized Palestinian territory militarily and illegally, and has since been increasing this illegal occupation amidst international condemnations for human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. With the continued alliance and support of the U.S., Israel has attacked Gaza repeatedly, attacked neighboring states, expanded settlements, built a wall outside Israel’s “green line” (effectively stealing more Palestinian land), and used many other oppressive tactics on the Palestinians, all with impunity. The one crumb that has been thrown to the Palestinians, the one thing that leaders around the world have given to show the Palestinians that their plight is seen, is the refusal to support Israel’s desire to have Jerusalem recognized as its capital, insisting instead that embassies remain in Tel Aviv. The U.S. is the only nation in the world to declare Jerusalem the capitol.
An understanding of the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also necessary. Jerusalem is holy to three faiths. For Christians it contains the Via Dolorosa and Calvary. For Muslims it is the site of Muhammad’s night journey and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israelis claim entitlement to Jerusalem as the home of the ancient temple where the remnant known as the Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site, but this fails to recognize the significance of this city to the other two faiths. And contrary to what some would have you believe they lived in harmony and were not in a constant state of conflict. Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians, Arabic-speaking Arab Jews and those who escaped the Spanish Inquisition were welcomed. It is an ancient city, and it is an Arab city, although much of it is now dominated by Jews. It remains dearly beloved by Palestinians as their capital.
Tel Aviv, on the other hand, was founded in 1909 by 60 Jewish families on the outskirts of Jaffa. Even though it is part of historic Palestine, it is a Jewish city, not significant to other faiths. If there is to be a Jewish state in historic Palestine (a situation of dubious morality but nevertheless a modern reality), its capital should be in this Jewish neighborhood now grown into a major Jewish city.
Trump’s statement yesterday can be compared to Sharon’s march on the Temple Mount in 2000. It is a flagrant insult to the Palestinians, as well as a nasty provocation. While Sharon knew he was making a provocation and did it deliberately, it is likely that Trump is too ignorant to appreciate the ramifications of his actions, and did it just to please elements of the right wing in the United States. He stated that it would help “the peace process,” but he did not state how it would help, or what peace process exactly he was referring to. It was a ridiculous assertion.
East Jerusalem is an illegally occupied Palestinian territory. Israel regularly demolishes homes of Palestinians, evicts Palestinians from their homes and then moves Jewish settlers in. Trump’s declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel could be considered support of this illegal occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people that comes with it. While there are many different perspectives on what the status of the City of Jerusalem should be, one thing that is not up for debate is that the status of the city is contested.
The results of Trump’s action remain to be seen, but clearly it has led to anger among Arabs and is likely to strengthen the convictions of those in the Israeli government who flaunt their complete disregard to international law and human decency. This could lead to the escalation of the displacement of Palestinians and an even faster expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. The number of such incidents is likely to increase with Trump’s announcement, along with an increase of settler activity in other areas, taking Trump’s support as a pat on the back for Jewish settler expansionism generally.
This is already a crisis and, if not corrected, the situation will only continue to deteriorate. We stand on the side of all occupied, oppressed, and vulnerable people and we are greatly concerned about the impact of this dramatic action and declaration by President Trump.
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